LANSING, Ill. (October 13, 2023) – What has been an elusive dream for more than a decade is now reality for TF North football.
The Meteors beat South Suburban Blue rival Oak Forest 36-28 on October 6 to improve to 6-1 and clinch the program’s first IHSA playoff berth since 2011.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team that hadn’t won more than one game in a season since 2019 and hadn’t finished with a winning record since going 5-4 in 2014.
The program’s renaissance has come on the watch of first-year coach Anthony Pignatiello, who played football and baseball for the Meteors and was a member of the 2006 playoff-qualifying team that finished 8-2.
Did he think the ship could be righted so quickly?
“The answer is no, and I think the biggest reason being everything is so new to everyone,” he said during a recent practice. “It’s one thing for programs to have a year in which the record isn’t great but you have the coaches coming back, you have players coming back that are familiar with the systems, schemes, offseason stuff.
“That was not the case for us. Pretty much everything was brand new and it didn’t really start till the beginning of April. … But kudos to the players for being able to buy in really quickly and then apply it.”
The record isn’t the only area of improvement for the Meteors. The program was down to one level and around 30 players last season. This year, there are full varsity and JV teams, with almost 90 players overall. If the turnout keeps growing, Pignatiello would like to add a freshman team. That would allow more players to compete against opponents of equal skill and experience, likely aiding in retention.
Two keys to this season’s success are a pair of seniors who play both ways: quarterback/defensive back Dominic Gradford and running back/linebacker Tristan Jackson. As usual, they played starring roles against Oak Forest. Gradford was 8-of-11 passing for 179 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown to Terrion Long. Gradford also completed a pass to Jordan Petty on a fake punt and ran for 122 yards and a TD. Jackson ran for three more touchdowns.
Among the defensive standouts against Oak Forest were Jackson and fellow linebackers Tremaine Floyd, Joseph Merritt, and Derek Sparkman.
Making the playoffs “means the world,” Gradford said. “We did think of it. That was always the goal since early in the year. We always had our mind set on this.”
Jackson said the seed was planted even earlier.
“We always knew since last season. We always knew we were (going to) come back,” he said.
It’s been quite a ride for Gradford, Jackson, and North’s other seniors in particular. Their freshman year, it was touch and go whether there would even be a football season; in the end, North played four games and went 1-3 in the spring.
The Meteors were 1-8 during their sophomore season and then 1-7 last fall under interim coach Jason Richardson. Now, under their third head coach, they’re finally tasting success. What held things together through all that adversity?
“I’d say our bond,” Jackson said. “We grew up playing with each other. We can’t stop now.”
The Meteors lost 25-10, 25-18 to Oak Lawn on Thursday and defeated Hillcrest 25-14, 25-8 on Tuesday.
The Red Wolves pushed South Suburban Blue leader Hillcrest to the limit on October 6 before falling 22-14 at TF North on a touchdown with 15.3 seconds left.
South’s Christian Streeter ran 22 times for 128 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown run. Seneca Smith had 12 rushes for 58 yards and added a two-point conversion. Thailand Gosa had the other TD for the Red Wolves (2-5, 2-3) on a fumble return. He also had nine tackles, two tackles for loss, and two sacks. Smith contributed eight tackles.
The Red Wolves fell 25-13, 25-20 to Tinley Park on Thursday. Earehc’ Hill had four kills and seven digs for South (14-13), Sania Sneed added four kills and Joya Hurey-Scott contributed five assists and three kills
Hill had six kills and two aces as South defeated Eisenhower 25-15, 25-16 on Tuesday. Sneed had four kills and three aces.
Boys cross country
Taking advantage of favorable weather conditions, five of the six Red Wolves in the varsity race at Saturday’s Oak Forest Crosstown Mad Dash ran personal bests.
South finished fourth among six full teams with 82 points, with Antoine Morgan (16th, 18:49, PR) leading the way. He was followed by Jesse Terrazas (18th, 19:08, PR), Brandon Chavez (22nd, 19:40, PR), Ben Gresham (23rd, 20:02, PR), Rodrigo Cortez (26th, 20:30), and Aaron Major (33rd, 21:38, PR).
TF United (TF South/TF North co-op)
United moved to 13-4-3 overall and 7-1-3 in the South Suburban Blue with a 4-1 win over Bremen on Wednesday. Giovanni Melgoza had a hat trick plus an assist for United, while Dimitri Kouemo had a goal and two assists. Angel Saenz added an assist, while Edgar Rodriguez and Oswaldo Mendoza each had one save.
United shut out Lemont 4-0 on Saturday.
The Vikings’ season ended with a 1-0 Class 2A regional semifinal loss to West Lafayette on Wednesday. Goalkeeper Eman Calix had one save for Illiana, which finished 14-5-1.
Illiana shut out Boone Grove 5-0 on Saturday to win the River Forest Sectional as Chase Poortinga had a hat trick and Calix had six saves.
Eli DeGraff and Divine Oligaku also scored for the Vikings, while Grant Terpstra and Nolan Flipse contributed assists.
St. Ignatius used a 27-point third quarter to pull away for a 50-28 CCL/ESCC crossover win over Marian on October 6 in Chicago.
Tyler Lofton ran 25 times for 135 yards and a touchdown for the Spartans (3-4). Joey Baranski passed for 127 yards and a TD — a 51-yarder to Moe Davis — and also ran for a score. Carter Magerski ran for the fourth Spartans TD.
Davis finished with four catches for 78 yards and Kaleb Isom had four receptions for 61 yards.
Boys cross country
Junior Daniel Kasperan was runner-up at Saturday’s Oak Forest Crosstown Mad Dash at 16:06.84. Other scorers for the Spartans, who were fifth among six full teams with 86 points, were Jayden Downs (eighth, 17:57.30), Jeremiah Bolar (25th, 20:22.40), Joah Greenwood (32nd, 21:10.53) and DeMarion Jackson (35th, 22:36.60).
Girls cross country
The Spartans finished third among four full teams with 69 points, paced by Lydia Casillas in fifth at 22:29.36. Also in Marian’s top five were Joselyn Guzzo (12th, 23:39.24), Lily Raftery (13th, 23:55.45), Maeghan Tomaka (29th, 26:15.83), and Kimberly Munoz (30th, 26:21.83).
Marian fell 25-18, 25-16, 25-15 to Andrean on Oct. 5. Kaitlyn Nichols had 16 assists for the Spartans (9-15), while Michelle Charles added 10 kills and six digs and Carrington Smith contributed six kills.
- Athlete spotlights of the week: TF South’s Christian Streeter and Illiana Christian’s Sam Bultema (October 7, 2023)
- TF South football notches second win of season: ‘We’re 2-0 in the second half’ – other local scores (October 6, 2023)